Feature Article

 

June 4, 2020

 

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker

Derry Member

 

This hasn't been the spring any of us expected, in church or anywhere else. In the many church-y groups I belong to, including those designed for clergy spouses, spiritual writers, and laypeople, I'm seeing a lot of assumptions that we're simply in a holding pattern until we can get back in the building. I disagree. There's a lot I miss about being physically present, but I have also experienced unexpected spiritual gifts during the shutdown. 

Verity and I have developed a Sunday morning routine. At her insistence, we still dress up for church. (Well, she dresses up. I get dressed.) The kitchen island is our "church spot." We gather my laptop and phone and any Sunday School resources from Mrs. Steelman. When we've arranged our space, we complete the Sunday School lesson, and at 10:30 am we join the livestream service, using the computer for the video and the phone for the bulletin. As the days of quarantine run together, this experience connects us to each other and provides us with a strong anchor for our week.

While we look forward to being back in church with you, both of us have experienced great growth in our spiritual lives through the church-at-home experience. I am a classic introvert, which means that if we think of energy in terms of a battery, interacting with people drains my battery, while being alone recharges it. Being surrounded by people and sensory stimuli is draining. Don't get me wrong: I look forward to church, and I love the opportunity to see people, but it does mean a huge part of my Sunday morning energy is focused on sensory processing. Live stream church has given me the opportunity to focus my mind more effectively on worship.

Meanwhile, Verity has the opportunity to ask as many questions about the service as she wants without being shushed. She can also pay closer attention without the many distractions the sanctuary offers a five-year-old. Because she's in her KIWI years, I expect her to watch only through the conversation with children. But on ten out of 12 weeks, she has chosen to participate in the entire service. Last week, she told me, "I'm really excited I know how to follow along with church now. I sang that whole hymn. I love hymns! I'm really proud of myself for doing such a good job at church." Verity watches and listens while coloring the sheets provided at the end of the bulletin, but she stops coloring for prayers and hymns and does her best to read the lyrics and responses. If she can't, she makes up her own words, which are actually quite theologically sound!

My most precious memory of this time is sharing communion on May 3. We served each other with pretzels and apple-pineapple juice, and I taught her the words. I will never forget her little voice saying, "The body of Christ, the bread of heaven, Mama." This time has been such an amazing opportunity for us to actively participate in each other's spiritual lives. I have learned as much (if not more) from Verity as she has learned from me about following Christ.

Leading our Faithful Readers’ Zoom meetings has been another meaningful experience. Faithful Readers is thriving in the virtual world. Our average attendance has remained steady, and new readers have joined us. There was such enthusiastic response to our May selection, Anne of Green Gables, that we decided to extend our schedule and meet in June and July to discuss the next books in the series. (If you'd like to join us, please check out the Faithful Readers’ Facebook Group. You can read along and participate in online discussions even if you're unable to join us on Sundays.)

In my spiritual life, I have felt an unusually clear connection to God over the past several months. I often find this to be true during times of struggle and anxiety. When the way ahead seems clear, sometimes I think I can handle things by myself. But being pregnant and mothering and trying to keep all the other plates spinning in the midst of a global pandemic have all given me a strong reminder of my need for God. 

I confess that my formal practice of reading daily devotions and passages of Scripture is sporadic at best. Sometimes I am very consistent, and sometimes I get busy and forget. I have not been doing them during this time, yet in the past three months I have felt a closer connection to God than at any time since I was Verity's age. I have felt God inviting me to simply rest in God's self. I have felt God's presence with me, and I have simply accepted that and God's invitation to rest—which is hard to do in a culture that equates measurable outcomes with moral virtue.

I think often about Jesus' visit to Martha's house in Luke 10:38-42. Like many people, I judge myself by my productivity—even in my spiritual life. It can be easy for church responsibilities, attendance, and devotions to become items to check off rather than times of true connection. Jesus tells me along with Martha, "You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing." In this time of spiritual rest, I have felt cradled in my relationship with God, invited to contemplate the one thing.

Another passage that has been on my mind is First Kings 19:11-13, where Elijah meets God at Horeb. "Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence." Elijah meets God in the silence. While the shutdown has been difficult in many ways—occasionally even a bit much for this introvert—it has given me the opportunity to meet God in the silence, away from the winds and earthquakes and fires of daily life, and, yes, even those of the church.

I will be glad when we are able to gather safely again. I miss our building, our worship services, and our fellowship. But I am also deeply grateful for the lessons of this time, both practical and spiritual. For me, this has not been a time of spiritual stagnation but a time of spiritual rest and renewal. I hope you can identify ways in which this has been true for you, and I hope you will share them to encourage others. If not, I hope you will talk with someone about the spiritual frustrations you're experiencing as we learn to be the church in a new way. As Verity said to me during Pastor Marie's sermon on May 24, "The church building can't move, but the love can." I hope you are able to find that love and rest and peace during this strange time, and may God be with you until we meet again.


P.S. I wouldn't feel like myself unless I left you with a book recommendation. At Home In This Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises by Jerusalem Jackson Greer was published in 2017, but it seems like the perfect book for these times.